On Friday, June 17th, WPI announced their first raises for the minimum TA pay for the first time most here can remember. While this is a welcome improvement, it stops far too short of meeting current increases in our costs of living, including rent, utilities and the increasing cost of food. It also did not go unnoticed that this came 40 minutes after we announced our majority. This is a clear sign that the administration recognizes our power, and is attempting to dissuade us from forming our union.
Then, Friday, June 24th, they laid out a raise history for minimum TA pay rates over the last decade. This represents another major win for us: pay transparency.
Unfortunately, many graduate workers here at WPI are paid as RAs; some are both RAs and TAs, in which case, they are reliant on their PIs or advisors to grant them raises or at least pay the TA minimum. What this means is that few workers actually receive the admittedly nominal TA stipend increases, unless PIs choose to concurrently increase RA pay, and many have reported never seeing a raise.
This is a fundamental right we can fix with a union contract: We can bargain for consistent raises and full pay transparency campus-wide. We can bargain for minimum pay for both TAs and RAs, instead of leaving it up to PIs to assign raises (who inevitably receive pressure from admins to keep costs down).
We should also be discussing a comparison between raises and costs in the greater Worcester area. This year alone, Worcester’s cost of living has increased significantly, and according to livingwage.mit.edu, an average single person needs to make $18.79 an hour working full time (40 hours a week) to support themselves. This averages to $751.60 a week, or $42,089.60 per year, dramatically more than the TA pay rates the university announced.
Even if all WPI graduate workers got the TA raises, living here for them has still gotten harder over the past decade. Just look at a comparison of cost of rent vs. these TA wages:
These graphs show that currently, if a TA or RA were to rent a studio apartment, housing alone would consume more than half of our pay (up from 45% a decade ago, a nearly 20% increase). Rent should be no more than 30% of our income to be able to cover other necessary needs, according to most financial planners and experts.
The email from Rory was a welcome sight, and we thank him for his transparency. With a union, the administration will be required to sit down with us as equals, talk through these circumstances, and bargain a union contract that will be democratically accepted by the graduate workers of WPI. This will help raise the standards for graduate workers, which will attract the best students to WPI and keep us focused on providing the highest quality teaching and research.
We will be in touch soon,
WPI-GWU Organizing Committee